First Lady Jill Biden reacts as Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Verma sign a permanent memorandum to strengthen military spouse resources. (Yuri Gripas/AP)

Agreement helps military spouses keep federal jobs in overseas moves

A new agreement between the Pentagon and State Department will ease some restrictions for federally employed military spouses who want to take their careers with them when moving overseas.

The memo, signed during a White House ceremony Wednesday by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Verma, strengthens the Domestic Employees Teleworking Overseas (DETO) program for military spouses.

“We are enabling federally employed military spouses to work remotely from where their service member is stationed overseas and continue their professions with as little disruption as possible,” Hicks said at the ceremony alongside First Lady Jill Biden.

“That matters for military spouses who want to continue down their chosen career path. It matters for the economic well-being of our military families. It matters for our ability to retain valuable talent and expertise in the federal work force, and it matters for our national security,” Hicks said.

All federal employees are prohibited from teleworking overseas without approval from their agency and the State Department. But a number of military spouses who have moved overseas on permanent change-of-station orders have been denied the ability to continue to work for a federal agency overseas under the DETO program, or have seen those agreements rescinded — costing tens of thousands of dollars in lost wages.

Some spouses previously told Military Times that military families were told to foot the bill for security requirements for federal telework overseas, sometimes costing upwards of $10,000.

Under the new agreement, DOD and State Department officials will work together to facilitate approval of telework arrangements for federal employees who are married to military and civilian DOD employees, and who plan to work remotely from their military-managed residences while overseas.

According to the White House and DOD, the State Department will now accept DOD’s safety and security standards, eliminating State Department inspections of military housing and shortening the time it takes to get a telework agreement approved. DOD already requires its overseas housing offices to inspect prospective residences outside of an installation to determine whether they are suitable for living.

DOD will also ensure that all required security or safety upgrades are covered by existing housing allowances, easing the burden on military families.

In addition, DOD will provide a range of security services normally carried out by regional security officers at U.S. embassies and consulates, such as emergency planning, evacuation assistance and initial incident response for serious incidents. This will also help streamline the residential safety and security screening requirements.

Julie Humphreys, an Army veteran and spouse, praised Jill Biden and the Joining Forces staff as “key advocates for workplace flexibility in support of policies that enable spouses to continue to work with the federal government through telework.”

“This ensures military spouses like me don’t have to sacrifice their careers to keep families together,” Humphreys said.

Humphreys works as an attorney adviser for the State Department in Stuttgart, Germany under a telework agreement. She has been employed by State since 2013.

Biden said Humphreys has fought for many spouses on this issue, helping them navigate the DETO process as an expert and an advocate.

Since helping found Joining Forces a decade ago to support military families, Biden said, she has talked to many spouses about their struggles with employment amid the challenges of military life.

The pact’s enactment comes nearly a year after President Joe Biden in June 2023 signed an executive order aimed at allowing military spouses who work for the federal government to transfer their jobs overseas.

“With today’s agreement, we are making that a reality,” Jill Biden said. “It is common sense and long overdue.”

But the work doesn’t end with this agreement, the First Lady said. While military spouses may not wear a uniform, she said, “You serve our country also. And it is our responsibility to serve you.”

“It isn’t just a moral obligation, but a national security imperative,” she said.


By: Karen Jowers